Demographic Crises pre 1651


Appleby states that in 1587/88, 1597 and 1623 the northwest of England (he specifically studied Cumberland and Westmorland) were struck by famine - i.e. starvation and starvation-related disease. It is likely that 1557 also saw a very high death rate. The earliest Manx burial register is that for Ballaugh but as this starts in June 1598 only the 1623 peak can be studied from Manx burial records (and only for three adjacent northern parishes).

Burials/year from the Northern group of Ballaugh, Michael and Jurby are shown below (note that Jurby starts 1607 and Michael 1611, hence the step change) - this group does not include any major town.

Northern group burials 1600-1650

Note the significant peak in 1623 with smaller peaks in 1636/7 and 1629.

Appleby states that examinations of parish registers for Northwest England show that a high death rate was common for parishes to the north and east of a line drawn from Manchester to Furness with Scotland also seeing a similar peak in burials - the south of England reported food shortage and hardship but the mortality rate did not rise significantly, high rates were seen in some areas to the east of the Pennines but not as unformly seen in the Northwest or Scotland. He disagrees with Howson who attributed the deaths to plague, pointing out that many deaths were in rural parishes - his explanation was that following the 1597 morbidity peak, early marriages had given rise to over-population in the northern parishes which, when confronted by extremely poor harvests (probably due to heavy rain), suffered famine - all parishes showed very high mortality in the last months of 1623 and the early months of 1623/4.

1623 - weekly burials

Burials by week 1623

Julian week 84700 is Jun 1623 - the peak is week is start of Sept 1623; 1 Jan 1623/4 is in week 84729.


Appleby also states that poor harvests occured in 1630 (drought reported in south of England), 1647-49 (three consecutive bad harvests), 1661 and during the 1690's - none of these seem to be reflected in the Manx burials, though few parish registers survive from the 17th century.

An indication as to adult deaths may be gleaned from the number of wills proved per year

Wills proved per year 1620-1900

which indicates a peak c.1661-1663 (though the following years are disrupted by the restoration of the Ecclesiastical courts), 1675 and 1689 (18th C peaks are 1723, 1741 and 1784) - there does not appear to be a significant peak in 1649 though there is decree from Tynwald Court:

[p 74] ?lib scacc

In court of Tynwald Aent 25 die Junij 1649

Considering the extraordinarie dearth and scarsitie of bread and all manner of victuall this present yeare, and comisserating the said condition of the poorer soarte of people of this Island who have not breade to eat or any other victuall to sustain nature wthal; By means whereof greate numbers of them are already dead - asstarned (?) by moore hunger and many also - yea the most [] of the poorer soart of the Island scarst able to stand upon their feet for want of sustanance It is thought fitt and soe ordered by this court that all & every the farmors & housekeepers of this Island shall twice every weeke - vizt upon wednesdayes & fridays, spare and forbeare both from themselves and from every pson of their fameleys - as children, servants and such like, the usuall preparation of victualls for one meale, upon both the said dayes weekly; and that proportion of victuall in christian charitie - and in the feare of God to dispend, give & distribute to the poore people that shall come unto their houses, or wch they shall know most needfull to send the same unto beinge not able to come for it. And this over and besides just almes as they in charity shall think yt in conscience they ought to give and bestow in this kinde ( and this is to bee observed till now corne ? [] in or untill that provision of moore corne into the Island, which his Lop has sent for unto France & other places for release of the countrie.

List of names Wm Grenehalgh Wm Sharples ... + 20 keys



B. Fagan The Little Ice Age. How Climate made History Basic Books (ISBN 0-465-02272-3) 2000

A. B. Appleby Famine in Tudor and Stuart England Liverpool: University Press (ISBN 0-85323-014-5) 1978

W. G Howson Plague, Poverty and Population in Parts of North-West England 1580-1720 Trans Historical Society of Lancashire & Cheshire 112 pp29/55 1961


 Manx Note Book   [History Index]


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2004